NZ's First World War horses

Page 5 – Egypt and Gallipoli

Most of the New Zealand horses sent overseas had a quiet start to the war. Apart from those sent to Samoa, the horses spent their first years or months overseas resting or training in Egypt.

Some draught horses accompanied the divisional artillery and transport and supply units to Gallipoli in April 1915 to assist with their work. But the conditions proved unsuitable for horses. Some of those landed remained, but many were not landed or were soon evacuated and returned to Egypt. When the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade was sent to Gallipoli in May 1915, it was as infantry. Their riding horses remained in Egypt. 

In a letter home in mid-1915 Captain Henry Avery, the officer in charge of the New Zealand Divisional Train (a transport and supply unit), outlined some of the reasons why the New Zealand forces had had to reorganise their transport arrangements at Gallipoli – and why few horses had been landed there:

It was soon found on our landing in Turkey that our transport was not suited to the country which we would have to work over…. Consequently all vehicles, horses, mules, etc., were returned to Egypt. Of course very little had been landed, as there was no room for it. The landing-places were small enough as it was, without blocking them up with transport for which there was no present need. I think the question of water supply also had a good deal to do with deciding the point, for the supply was limited and the animals numerous.

On Gallipoli, motor vehicles and four-wheeled vehicles drawn by horses were replaced by small, manoeuvrable ‘Indian mule carts’ drawn by two mules. Mules and donkeys coped better with the shortage of water and the steep terrain. They were used to transport supplies such as water and ammunition – by cart and on their backs.

The artillery retained some horses at Gallipoli, but heavy equipment such as field guns had to be manhandled up steep slopes. When the 5th Battery landed at Gallipoli during the August 1915 offensive, it was with all its horses. The occupation of territory to the north of the Anzac forces’ original position allowed more heavy guns – and the horses needed to move them – to be employed. But by the time of the evacuation in December 1915, all except three of the gun teams had been sent back to Egypt. The remaining horses were subsequently evacuated with the men and their guns.

With men badly needed at Gallipoli, small crews of experienced horsemen - such as farriers and drivers - cared for the New Zealand horses at Zeitoun Camp, near Cairo, which had been established soon after the NZEF’s arrival in Egypt in December 1914. These men were assisted by locals and overseen by members of the New Zealand Veterinary Corps. Thanks to these efforts, and the distance of the camp from the action, few New Zealand horses were lost during this period. In late 1915 Colonel Charles Reakes, Director of Veterinary Services and Remounts, noted that only 1.5% of the New Zealand horses had been lost since their arrival in Egypt. 

In late 1915 and early 1916 the horses were reunited with their units as the latter returned from Gallipoli. In his History of the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, Colonel C.G. Powles describes how much the men anticipated seeing the horses again:

It was nearly nine months since officers and men had left their horses, and there was much discussion on nearing Egypt as to whether the horses would still be at Zeitoun, and if there, whether they would be fit to be ridden. The first glance at the well-kept horse-lines, with their overhead cover for the protection from the sun, gave assurance, and great was the delight of the old hands when they found their horses in the pink of condition … and good indeed it was to see the shining happy face of many an ‘old hand’ as he wandered down the lines and recognised his own beloved horse.

Although the horses were in good condition and strong numbers, the same could not be said of the returning men. As Terry Kinloch notes in his account of the brigade’s experiences in the Middle East, Devils on horses, on their return from Gallipoli the regiments were under strength, and ‘even the unwounded evacuees were generally weak and malnourished’. 

But before long the NZMR was ‘fully armed, magnificently horsed, properly equipped and at full strength’. In mid-January it left Zeitoun Camp with its horses for the Suez Canal. They camped at Serapeum, not far from where the rest of the New Zealand forces were concentrated at Moascar Camp.

The transport element of other units which had remained at Zeitoun Camp, and their horses, also left for Moascar Camp near Suez during this period. In the weeks that followed the New Zealand forces were reorganised. Men and horses were shifted from mounted units into the artillery, infantry and transport components of the New Zealand Division.

In April 1916, more than 3000 ‘animals’ – horses and mules – were sent from Egypt to France with the New Zealand Division. Several thousand of the New Zealand forces’ horses remained in the Middle East. These animals were assigned to the NZMR Brigade, which had been separated from the rest of the New Zealand forces to form part of a new Anzac Mounted Division which also contained Australian Light Horse brigades and Royal Horse Artillery batteries.

How to cite this page

'Egypt and Gallipoli', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 29-Jul-2014